Small SA defence company successfully carving a niche for itself

Small South African defence company Twiga Services recently started sea trials with its latest product, an 8.5-m-long military patrol boat. Manufactured out of high-density polyethylene (better known as HDPE), it is designated the Rugged 850 military patrol boat (MPB). “The Rugged 850 MPB is designed for use on the Great Lakes of East Africa and the rivers of sub-Saharan Africa,” reports company CEO Brigadier General (retired) Damian de Lange. “We also have a Rugged 900 MPB, which has a bow ramp for marines, which was designed for riverine operations in South America.”

The company supplies a range of tough work and general purpose boats that can fulfil a number of civilian, military and security roles. They meet South African Maritime Safety Authority requirements and come in heavy-duty or extra-heavy-duty versions. Also made from HDPE, they are consequently resistant to abrasion, corrosion and ultraviolet (UV) light. They come in a range of lengths: 5.9 m, 6.9 m, 7.5 m, 8 m, 9 m, 9.5 m and 10.5 m.

But boats are only a part of the company’s product range. “We’ve been active since 2011,” explains De Lange. “Our turnover is about R30-million/year. We’re very small. We focus on supplying products where we can transfer technology, skills and capabilities to our customers to further develop local capabilities. “Our priority area is sub-Saharan Africa, but we’re also looking at South America and Asia. We offer a wide range of products. “We are completely export-focused – between 95% and 98% of our income is export, and about 85% of the components we use we purchase in South Africa, from South African companies. “We tend to form strategic relationships with certain companies and we maintain close relationships with our customers – we’re in the field, with them.”

Another area the company is involved in is the manufacture of mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (to use the US terminology). It offers a 4 × 4 mine-protected design, designated the Nyoka. Currently, this is being manufactured at a facility set up in an East African country, in a joint venture. “We’ve already produced the first ten vehicles and now we’re producing the second ten,” he states. “This project is underpinned by a lot of training, skills and technology transfer.”

In addition, the company is involved in the remanufacture of armoured vehicles. This is done with South African vehicles formerly used by the South African Army and since declared surplus to requirements and disposed of. “The remanufacturing process provides clients with the equivalent of 80% of a new vehicle,” he highlights.

The company also provides weapon mounts, customer-specific soldier protection systems and night vision/thermal imaging gear. “We subcontract a lot, using fixed-term contracts. As a small company, we have to keep our running costs down,” he elucidates. “We, thus, draw a lot on the considerable expertise that exists in South Africa. “For example, for the soldier protection systems, we subcontract the actual manufacturing of the gear that we have designed and developed to other South African companies.”

With regard to the night vision and thermal imaging equipment, Twiga imports the components and assembles, tests and supplies the system to its customers. This business has led to involvement with a civilian product, the CoroCAM. This has been developed by UViRCO, a spin-off company of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The CoroCAM is a camera that combines UV, infrared and visual wavelengths to detect electricity losses or transmission defects. It can be used day or night and detects the “corona” created by “leaking” electricity. “UViRCO will supply South Africa, while it will be marketed by us in East Africa (broadly defined),” says De Lange. “We’re aiming at transmission companies in that region.”

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